Thursday, April 3, 2008

Why We are Homeschooling

Not too many people would agree with me, but I do have a rebellious spirit inside of me. It's wildly constrained by fear, but I do rebel. I like to turn against the status quo at times, to do something unique only to me, swim against the tide, establish my own identity. But I just don't rebel for random reasons, I have to have really, really good reasons. I need to have a great story to explain my rebellion, so that I can justify it to others. Maybe, so that I may even get someone else to join me...

Also, if I cannot think of a really, really good reason, than I not only don't rebel, I actually conform extremely. During high school, I was terrified to dress up for Halloween, way too risky. I remember church dances in junior high and high school, agonizing over what I should wear so I wouldn't stand out. I remember one night, I came without a tie when one was required, and I was humiliated and my night was ruined. So I guess, my natural urge has been to conform, to fit in, but every now and again, I have a need to rebel, and for me, my biggest regrets have been when I haven't, either out of fear or laziness or both.

So, that is what home schooling is for me, in the end, my rebellion, and my kids get to pay for it. But I do have really good reasons for this rebellion. Darn good ones. The number one reason for this particular rebellion, is that one of my biggest hopes and dreams for my children is that they will grow up as much better rebels than me. So in that spirit, I want my kids to join me in my rebellion. And what better way to rebel than through home schooling.

It's like we're taking a middle finger to all of society and saying, forget you, you suck, we can do it better. But it's more than that. Think of all the rock and roll songs from the 1980's. There were so many anti-school ones: "Schools out for the Summer. Schools out forever." One of my funnest experiences is to commiserate with a youth about how home work sucks and why can't you get all the school work done while you're at school anyway.

My bad feelings for public school runs pretty deep. For one, I am bitter about how little school prepared me for the real-world. Granted, that responsibility should belong to the parents, but my parents, unfortunately, were not prepared for the real world themselves, and suffered for it all of their lives. So, they did what they could, but largely they had to rely upon the public school system. And you would think that if you spend seven to eight hours a day, five days a week for twelve solid years before you graduate from high school, school should have done a little more for me than it did. In fact, I probably spent more time at school than I did at home. And public schooling just did not live up to my own high expectations for it. Remember too, I was a good student, a really good student, graduating number three in my high school class. And I was not prepared.

Sure, I was able to go to college, graduate in a reasonable amount of time, find a good job out of college at a major company, and I have been gainfully employed ever since. But consider, that company, Motorola is now almost gone. I worked for ten years there, and largely, the work I did went down the toilet. My first project was a government boondoggle that cost Motorola and later General Dynamics and of course the government far more money to develop it than what they got in return. I had another project that ended in complete failure and a cancellation. My last project there was successful, but I had already been working in industry for ten years before I experienced success.

But the problem wasn't the failures, the problem was the only place I really felt safe, the only place I was really able to get a job was at a large defense company that had a lot of room to blow money. There was very little risk there. And yes, I blame public school for that because I graduated from high school without a clue how I wanted to pursue a career. Check out my earlier blog post to get the full, gory details. Bottom line, what's the use of school, if you can't both build a foundation for learning and find some direction for your career and for the rest of your life. College didn't even really help me with that, in fact college is not even designed for that, especially the engineering department. They kind of already assume you have made your career decisions and then offer you resources to help you achieve your goals. I hadn't really made an informed decision, so I was not prepared to take full advantage of my university experience.

So back to homeschooling.

I remember reading the first article that started swaying me toward the home schooling path. The article described our school system as a left over from the industrial age. During this time, our economy shifted toward very labor intensive factory work. A large number of workers were required to work in the factories. These workers had to be able to follow orders, show up on time, and adhere to a schedule. So, the school system's primary job, at the time, was to produce a large number of people who were able to do just that.

That sort of argument resonated with me. What was my school life like? It was very authoritative. A teacher as the monarch of the classroom and the source of all knowledge. School work completely laid out for me with an assigned schedule. And school was boring most of the time. The textbooks were terrible.

My turning point came, though, when I read The Arizona Republic which has this arts section in its Sunday morning paper, and in it there is always a book review section. Early in our marriage I came across a review of the Well Educated Mind. Well, the author of that book, also wrote The Well Trained Mind, and this is the book I gave to my wife for her birthday. I can't remember why I did this exactly, but it has largely changed our lives. The book is all about home schooling, and it provides a very detailed description on how to do it for each grade all the way through high school. The book describes schooling in a way that made me wish I could have had an experience like that. Complete with Latin and foreign language studies. In high school, the student creates a Junior and Senior year projects that allow the student to focus in on an area of interest. The program is a classical education approach, where the student goes through three stages of learning, the grammar stage, the logic stage, and the rhetoric stage. The student also learns in a historically linear fashion, learning science, history, and literature in lockstep historically when we has human beings learned them. Very cool, because of the focus on the inter-relationships of subjects, the reiteration of material, and the challenge of it.

But more than that, it offered an appealing alternative, another approach, a new way.

Reading this book, I was, for the first time, legitimately excited about homeschooling. At the time, I wished I could stay home to do it, while Sara went out to work. By the way, it was essential that Sara has wanted to home school for her entire life. The real reason we are homeschooling is because she wants to do it. Homeschooling is more than a full time job, and since I have to work, I am not much more than a homeschooling cheerleader and very part-time assistant to my wife.

But reading this book started on our journey of homeschooling exploration, and now we have begun, our oldest daughter taking kindergarten in our home.

But homeschooling is a rebellion, despite the fact that many more people are engaging in it than in the past. It is a rebellion because when parents take this journey, they are saying we will take our children down a completely individualized and specialized educational path. We will prepare our children in the way we see fit. True, we may take advantage of resources out in the community, but in the end, we decide which resource to partake in.

Before I was married, I was taking a martial arts class, and I remember the teacher saying (I don't remember the context) that religious pursuit is an individual path. I agree. I also think that education is an individual path. That for each of us there is an individually right time to learn something. Consider this quote from the essay "Why you should blog":

Often I'll get discouraged because I feel like I'm writing about things that have already been discussed into the ground by others. The thing I have to remember is that there's a "right time" to learn something, and it's different for everyone. For example, many universities teach the Scheme programming language to undergrads, in the sort of desperate hope that the students will understand why they're learning it. Most of them don't, and I was no exception. Some people don't get it for years, and some people never get it. I had to spend almost two decades writing over a million lines of production code in twenty-odd programming languages before I finally got it. It just wasn't "time" for me yet. Now understanding Scheme and its peers are my own personal quest, but I shouldn't expect it to be that way for everyone.

And that, in essence is the source of my frustration with the way our school system works. I remember feeling bouts of panic because maybe I didn't fully internalize some concept in school, and feeling like it was everlastingly too late now and that I was destined never to get anything else on that topic because I never mastered the foundational stuff. This is a real fear because so many kids fall behind and can never catch up because our school system is just not designed to accommodate individual learning tracks.

How much better our society would be if parents partnered with the school system and with their children were able to chart an individualized path of learning for the child, at least until the child was old enough to chart their own path.

I heard this thought expressed in a different way in an interview I listened to several years back with V.S. Naipul shortly after he won the nobel prize for literature in 2001. He said that to understand works of Shakespeare or other great literature you have to have already experienced pain yourself. Because of that requirement, it is impossible for a high school kid to get it, and that the only utility for exposing a teenager to these works is for exposure...

Interesting idea, but important too that we engage in a quest of life long learning, and that quest is individual. Instead our school system is set up to fail a child because he doesn't get a concept at the exact time it is presented, or to put on a pedestal another child who may be lucky enough to be ready for the information when it is presented.

But back to rebellion. This is something I want my children to learn how to do. But I don't want my kids to rebel just to rebel, or to do it out of anger or spite. That sort of rebellion is not honest. I want them to do it in the spirit of Bob Dylan: if "you live outside the law, you must be honest". Sometimes a rebellious path will look to the outsider like conformity, but often it will look just as it is. Because ultimately, a rebel is someone who is true to themselves, someone not afraid to go down the path that only they can walk down. The book, "Girls Gone Mild" , in my mind describes a much deeper sort of rebellion than those of the "Girls Gone Wild" genre. In fact, the latter group are conforming in the deepest most tragic sense. Giving themselves away to the pleasure of others who have no clue who these girls are.

I still remember the description my college student ward bishop gave regarding the scripture Luke 22:31. Here, Jesus tells Peter that Satan would like to sift him as wheat. My Bishop, if I remember correctly, described this desire of Satan to make Peter ordinary and just like everyone else. But to be extraordinary, is to adhere to our internal voice, something that is uniquely us, and since we are all children of God, our true identify will be discovered only as we draw closer to God.

So true rebellion only exists as we rebel from the influences of the world in favor of a path that leads us to God. Ironically enough.

Looking back, I wish I was more prepared for this sort of rebellion. It takes almost a supernatural self-confidence to do so. The modern day rebels I admire in my industry, are those young kids who right after getting their computer science degrees, move to San Jose to try their hands at a startup. Coming up with new industries, new business models, new ways to change the world, coming up with the next Facebook or the next YouTube, or the next Google.

Becoming a rebel is my lifelong quest. Through homeschooling, I hope that my kids can get there more quickly.


April said...

I really enjoyed this post. Rebellion speaks to my heart as I have always been a rebel and Ryan has joined me in his later years.

I too, was disppointed with the preparation, or lack thereof, that high school offered. I found myself a freshman in college failing an accelerated science course because I didn't know how to take notes or pass just three tests.

In my second year in college I found my stride through writing courses and discovered Jonathon Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing us Down (which you would love), and found my anti-school side. This was ironic as I was studying to become a teacher, but I did study in a very hippie, altruistic program with only 14 other individuals. I found that there were schools that did their best to rebel while remaining "same enough" to get by legally and financially. These schools are hard to find.

I also like your description of The Well Trained Mind method of homeschooling. Waldorf education is similar in it's stages of life vs education. Ryan and I know that if we do not get into Waldorf we will be homeschooling as well. But, I have always knwon that public school was not for my children. In fact, I think working in public schools made my opinion even harsher at public education because of all of the politics that take presidence over children's educational needs.

I recently read two other books that had some good points that resonated with me. Firstly, the idea that we rush our children through school and want them to be tops in everything only to have them top out at life once they graduate and then they end uo feeling lost and unimportant. I can definitely relate to that once I got into college. Secondly, the idea that electronic media in the classroom is the answer to our educational problems, when in actuality scores and abiltiies have not improved. We have simply wasted millions of dollars on high tech gadgets (that will be outdated in three years) when we could have purchased more books or spent money educating teachers more fully in their specialties.

Public education and conformity just make me angry and I've always been pushing against them in some way or other. sometimes it can be a lonely road, but at least people like you and I have married spouses that walk that road with us.

Again, thanks for the post, I needed it to remind me that I am on the right path for me.

H said...

I tend to see rebellion as you are talking about it as being true to yourself. Knowing what is right and doing it, no matter what the rest of the world or even your little community thinks about it. That is why I did dress up for Halloween :) The school also had backwards days, 50's ect which I always did because it was fun. I would estimate that only 10% of the school participated in these days and not all of them were my friends. Does that make me a rebel for being unlike the rest of the student body, or a conformist because I did what the school wanted me to? Neither.

You and I have talked quite a bit about the problems with public schools and I can't imagine that I will ever have a good answer for you. I do however have several thoughts on why I don't homeschool that I will have share sometime. I think the bottom line for everyone is to know your child, know yourself, and do what's best for everyone. That might change from year to year and that's OK.

tempe turley said...

Thank April for the kind comments. Thanks Helena for yours. Talking about homeschooling is tricky. When you talk to others who didn't make that choice, I feel like most people get defensive. It's almost, sort of, aggressive behavior to homeschool.

I actually want to do a part II to this post if I can compose my thoughts well enough to do it. I want to explain how homeschooling is just one way to teach rebellion to your kids, and it's definitely not the right way for every family.

Like I said, education is an individual path, and every family has to route their own course.

There's certainly other ways to do it. And some schools are probably are better at nuturing rebellion than other schools. Also, I think there are some disadvantages to homeschooling, that our kids will simply just have to deal with.

But maybe more on this in a part II.

Writermama said...

one thing i am learning as i read your blog posts is what a good writer you are. no fair!

one thing you haven't mentioned, is that home schooling is, generally speaking, a luxury. Not many people can afford to do it in this day and age, unfortunately.

Writermama said...

i have to say, as well, that while i do send my kids to public school, i tried to find one that was as non-comformist and rebellious as i could. (my oldest daughter's teacher was a drummer in a thrash metal band in the early '90s and speaks out openly against standardization). the teachers and administrators all seem to be on the same side as the parents and kids, and against the forces in gov't that attempt to force everyone into standardized molds (while cutting their funding in the process).

tempe turley said...

Julie, I agree definitely. Homeschooling is not for everyone for many reasons, again I really need part II...

Thanks for your nice complement which means a lot, coming from a writer...

I actually don't think I'm that good of a writer, but I think it helps to pick topics I really care and know about. And then to write from the heart instead of trying to impress people.

I think coming out of school, I was trained to write in this "let's show people how smart I am" way which, of course, was wrongheaded training, I learned later.

LeAnn said...

Love it! Jenny told me to read your blog - glad I did. You have GOT to read "A Thomas Jefferson Education." It goes along with TWTM which we use as well.

Anonymous said...

Hi Scott,
I have a question out of the spirit of discussion and curiosity, nothing more. If you're kids decided they wanted to deviate from your chosen religion and decide to search and choose for themselves, thus in a way rebel, would that be ok with you?

You are a great writer, BTW.



H said...

Ooohhh, I like Shelley's question.

tempe turley said...

Shelley, I only noticed your question now. I would have to say that I would have to be ok with it, I would have no choice but to. As I said in my post, religion is a personal journey, and although we will pass down to our kids as much as we are able to, to build a strong foundation, in the end, they will have to make those decisions themselves.

The goal is that they have enough self confidence and would have developed enough of a relationship with God by the time they entered adulthood, that I could feel confident that they are choosing a path that God had intended for them, even if it is a path I did not expect.

Of course, they also need to be free to make mistakes and to go down not so good paths as well. Sometimes it might be hard to tell the difference.

It's tough being a parent :-).

Rachel said...

Scott I have been enjoying your essays so much! This one had me laughing, fascinated and left wanting to read all those books. I have no idea what I want for Sophia, but I have this inkling that I need to be preparing/educating myself about the options NOW. Otherwise I'll just end up doing the easiest thing when the time sneaks up on me. I never considered home schooling until I taught in a public school for a year. Sheesh, we are messed up. Of course, I knew that before, from my own experience at a lower income school that struggled in serious ways, but I guess it just reminded me in a new way.

What are the top three books in order of how you would read them, that you would refer me to?

Also, the part about the "Girls gone mild" kind of rebellion reminded me of a kick-butt book you and Sara absolutely HAVE TO read. It's called "A Return to Modesty" By Wendy Shallit (or something like that). Seriously, buy it used on Amazon, you'll want it in your library! I can't wait for part II to this post. Thanks for writing these, I'm inspired to write my own. It's weird though b/c everything I want to write about is highly controversial and I can't tell if it would be helpful to me and my relationships with others to even write it publically. But I have a burning desire to do so. So far it as ended with indecision and doing nothing. Not a good ending.

tempe turley said...

Rachel, thanks for your comment. Let me get back with you regarding the books. The book I did read on home schooling that influenced me personally the most was the Well Trained Mind, but Sara has done far more research on the subject than I have so maybe she should respond.

As far as writing, just write. If it comes from the heart and you are careful to be compassionate in your writing, I'm sure people won't be offended. More likely, we'll all learn something... And you will too.

Seriously, I've learned a lot, this ability to sort through ideas in a clear enough way to compose them, through writing...